Everton 1-1 Crystal Palace
Seeing Everton's exciting young quartet, dubbed 'the fab four' by some, was enough to build up the excitement for our 'game in hand' at home to Alan Pardew's Crystal Palace, but with that also brought slight nerves as they were in form. On the back of a 5-1 hammering of Newcastle, Pardew's men rolled up into Merseyside one point ahead of Everton, knowing that any positive result would keep them above us.
My friend Jonathan picked me up and as we drove to the game we listened to the FA Cup 3rd round draw, a highlight in the footballing calendar. Delighted to avoid Manchester City, we were blessed with a home tie against Dagenham and Redbridge or Whitehawk (who?), while 5 matches included all-Premier league ties. "Great!" we thought, "now on to tonight."
While climbing up the steps to the Upper Bullens, the pre match conversation was of how a win would take us to 6th, with winnable fixtures to follow. Twitter informed us of how Lukaku was on 49 goals in 99 Everton appearances, so he was nailed on to score and we wondered how Brendan Galloway would cope being isolated against the torment that is Yannick Bolasie.
Z cars and atmosphere-sucking Premier League music out of the way, the game kicked off, with Connor Wickham starting as he meant to go on by testing Tim Howard within the first minute. Everton then had a ten minute spell, with Ross Barkley shooting wide after a clever one-two with Lukaku, when perhaps he had more time to take another touch into the penalty area.
The contrast of footballing styles was there for all to see at Goodison. Everton, in blue, trying to pass their way through a stubborn defence, with Kone and Deulofeu often guilty of trying one clever trick too many. While Palace, in white, hitting the ball long into the big and strong Connor Wickham, who proved a real handful for centre back pairing John Stones and Ramiro Funes Mori throughout the evening. Bolasie and the left-footed Jason Puncheon offered the counter attacking threat.
Palace had their spell in the first half, with the nuisance Wickham forcing Tim Howard into a fine save from a close range header. At the other end, Lukaku went a literal matter of inches away from his 50th Everton goal, smashing a low drive against the inside of the post from 20 yards out.
Half Time: Everton 0-0 Palace
The half time talk was of how important getting the first goal would be, which sounds obvious, but an Everton goal would force Palace to come out and we thought their defence, including Liverpool fan Scott Dann, looked very solid.
With the second half underway, Everton looked for the early breakthrough, forcing a succession of early corners, but, other than Barkley heading wide, we couldn't create a clear opening. In fact, it was Palace looking more dangerous on the breakaway, with Bolasie forcing Tim Howard into another good save.
But Deulofeu and his stepovers were growing into the game, and Everton were not piling on continuous pressure. A brilliant Barkley freekick was whipped in from the left hand side and Wickham inadvertently flicked it beyond the stranded Hennessey before seeing it crash off the underside of the bar and out.
Leighton Baines was introduced for Galloway as Everton continued to pile forward. Tom Cleverley, who was really growing into the game, smacked a thunderous volley towards the top corner. With Goodison ready to applaud, Hennessey somehow got his fingertips to it and turned it away. Everton were getting closer, we felt.
But Palace provided a reminder of their threat, having a claim for a penalty and forcing Tim Howard into yet another save after a swift counter attack. They had won a corner and it's floated delivery was met with the free head of Scott 'fucking' Dann, sending the few Palace fans that travelled north into delirium. An all too familiar feeling crept it's way around the ground as Everton trailed with little over 10 minutes remaining.
But Everton weren't ready to admit defeat just yet, as Romelu Lukaku, from outside the box, crashed a venomous volley towards goal and beyond the despairing dive of the Palace keeper, but not beyond the cruel woodwork, which had thwarted Everton for the third time. Just what did we have to do to score?
With the crowd behind them, the pressure from the Everton players did not subside, and it did not take long to equalise. A low cross from Gerard Deulofeu was converted by Lukaku from close range. 1-1. Lukaku now had his 14th goal of the season, with an incredible 8 of those assisted by Deulofeu.
Everton then huffed and puffed as both sides had chances to win it blocked by some great defending, but the referee blew his whistle to bring an end to an exciting Premier League encounter.
Full Time: Everton 1-1 Palace
A feeling of frustration and two dropped points was shared as we made our way back to the car, but credit to Palace who look set up to do very well this season and they probably deserved a point for how well they defended. Lukaku scoring 50 goals in 100 appearances for Everton is a great goals return and long may it continue, but as he eluded to in his interview after the game, these are the games Everton need to be winning if we want to challenge for the Champions League places.
Next up: Norwich (A)